When workplace conflict escalates, it can bring with it the threat of lawsuits and employment complaints. By managing workplace conflict in-office, you can improve employee relations and avoid getting lawyers involved in your business.
Workplace Conflict Can Lead to Legal Troubles
No one wants a lawsuit bogging down the company’s work. When lawyers get involved in your day-to-day operations, you can expect to spend a lot of time and money responding to inquiries and addressing complaints. Lawsuits can take years to resolve, decrease employee morale, and even threaten the longevity of the company. In small businesses, a surprising number of legal issues start in the workplace, in the form of employee disputes.
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How Employee Disputes Can Escalate into Lawsuits
Conflict is a part of every workplace. At some point, if you have two employees, they will disagree about how the work will be done or have a personal dispute. Most of the time, a skilled manager can help defuse these interpersonal disputes and help your team work better together. But sometimes, if employees are left to work things out themselves, disputes can grow into something more serious, like a workplace harassment complaint.
When employee disputes turn personal, or begin to focus on certain protected traits (such as race, religion, or gender), you could be looking at legal action for workplace harassment. Employers have a legal obligation to investigate and respond to these kinds of workplace harassment complaints. When they don’t, the employer can be sued for failing to protect their employees from harassment or abuse. This can involve an administrative investigation, hearings, and even a federal lawsuit.
When Employees Leave, Lawsuits Can Follow
When a dispute is between an employee and their supervisor, the risk for lawsuits is even higher. Managers speak with the authority of the company, in many cases. That means when a manager makes a disparaging comment, it can be held against the business as a whole. In addition, if a supervisor disciplines or fires an employee in violation of state or federal laws, employment lawsuits can quickly follow.
Those lawsuits can sometimes go in the other direction, as well. If an employee leaves the company because of workplace conflict, they may take with them trade secrets, client lists, or other confidential information. If that employee then goes to work for your competitor – or opens a competing business of their own – you may need to get lawyers involved to protect your company’s assets. These intellectual property lawsuits can be time consuming and expensive, but they may be necessary to protect your company’s competitive advantage in the marketplace.
How to Avoid Having Workplace Conflict Result in Legal Disputes
When it comes to workplace conflict, proactive conflict resolution is the best way to avoid employee disputes from escalating and creating legal challenges. Informal conflict resolution can be accomplished through a manager, supervisor, or other neutral third party who helps the employees to air their concerns and find solutions. However, once those interpersonal conflicts have escalated, or if they involve the employee’s supervisor, a formal dispute resolution process may be required.
Facilitated dispute resolution, sometimes called mediation, can be used to defuse hostility, address harassment complaints, and intercede before an employee separation. Here, an outside third party acts as a facilitator, speaking with all sides of the dispute and helping everyone involved come to a resolution that addresses their priorities and concerns. In facilitation, employees, supervisors, and even owners can be brought to consensus. Getting buy-in on any proposed solution is essential. As a result, participants walk away knowing that their concerns have been heard, real solutions are available, and what they can expect the company to follow through on.
Using this formal process can keep the lawyers from getting involved and avoid costly complaints and lawsuits. It can de-escalate employee disputes, resolve hostility in the workplace, and keep your team together and on track.
David Stanislaw is an organizational development specialist with over 25 years’ experience helping employees and companies resolve workplace disputes. Through facilitated conflict resolution, David helps small and medium-sized businesses reduce conflict in their workplaces and avoid employment-related lawsuits. Contact us to meet with David to move toward conflict resolution today.